Sharply Divided Massachusetts Supreme Court Holds That the Statute of Repose Bars a Homeowner’s Claim Against a Contractor Under the Consumer Protection Statute

Bridgwood v A.J. Wood Constr., Inc., 2018 Mass. Lexis 561 (Sup. Ct., Aug. 29, 2018)

On October 30, 2000, the city of Newburyport, through its housing rehabilitation program, awarded A.J. Wood a contract for the rehabilitation of Ms. Terry Bridgwood’s home in Newburyport.  Under the city’s contractor agreement for the housing program, Wood was required to comply with certain standards, including that all rehabilitation, alterations, repairs, or extensions be in compliance with all applicable Federal, State, and local codes.  The agreement also required that all contractors and subcontractors must obtain and maintain all necessary permits, and must certify that the work complied with all Federal, State, and local regulations of the Massachusetts home improvement law, among other things.  The work on the Bridgwood home was completed by Wood in 2001.

In 2012, Bridgwood’s home suffered a substantial fire.  She filed suit in the state superior court in 2016, under the Consumer Protection Statute, claiming that Wood and its electrical subcontractor failed to obtain a permit to replace or repair certain ceiling light fixtures on the premises.  Additionally, she alleged that none of the defendants gave proper notice to local inspectors, nor did they perform their work in compliance with the applicable Federal, State, or local codes, as required by the contractor agreement.

Wood moved to dismiss Bridgwood’s lawsuit as untimely under the statute of repose.  The Superior Court agreed and dismissed the suit.  Bridgwood appealed and the appeal was transferred to the Supreme Court.  A divided Supreme Court affirmed in a 4-3 decision.

On appeal, Bridgwood argued that the statute of repose, which bars claims brought more than six years after completion of the work was irrelevant for consumer protection claims, which were created in a separate statute.  In rejecting this claim, the majority noted that the statute of repose “protects contractors from claims arising long after the completion of their work” and “eliminates a plaintiff’s cause of action even in cases of fraudulent concealment.”  The majority concluded that allowing Bridgwood’s suit some 15 years after completion of the work would effectively prevent a contractor from ever closing out its liability.  The majority also concluded that by passing the Consumer Protection Statute there is no evidence that the legislature intended to deprive contractor of the protection of the statute of repose and that such an intent should not be implied.  Bridgwood also argued that because the relief under the Consumer Protection Statute is “neither wholly tortious nor wholly contractual,” her claims were not subject to the statute of repose, which she argued applies only to tort claims.  The majority rejected this challenge as well, noting that Bridgwood misapplied the language of the statute and concluding that Bridgwood could not avoid the statute by re-categorizing her claims.

The dissenters noted that the Consumer Protection Statute has its own four year statute of limitations and does not contain any statute of repose nor any reference to the statute of repose.  Here Bridgwood met the statute of limitations in the Consumer Protection Act and the dissenters asserted that the majority’s effort to impose the statute of repose essentially amounted to a rewriting of the Consumer Protection Statute.

To view the full text of the court’s decision, courtesy of Lexis®, click here.

Danielle J. Volpe

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